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Ball in Lower Swatara’s court on police; Middletown says it has provided numbers

By Dan Miller danmiller@pressandjournal.com
Posted 4/19/17

Middletown Borough is waiting on Lower Swatara Township to offer a proposal regarding the possibility of the borough entering into a contract with the township for police services.

“The ball …

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Ball in Lower Swatara’s court on police; Middletown says it has provided numbers

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Middletown Borough is waiting on Lower Swatara Township to offer a proposal regarding the possibility of the borough entering into a contract with the township for police services.

“The ball is in Lower Swatara’s court,” Middletown Mayor James H. Curry III told the Press & Journal in response to a list of questions posed regarding the status of police talks between the two municipalities.

In December, Curry and former borough Council President Ben Kapenstein began a discussion with Lower Swatara officials aimed at seeing if the township was interested in partnering with the borough on some kind of regional police arrangement.

Talks have focused on an arrangement where the borough would enter into a contract with Lower Swatara to pay the township to provide police services in Middletown — as opposed to the two municipalities creating a brand new regional police force.

Council during its Feb. 21 meeting set a 90-day time limit on the talks regarding contracting with Lower Swatara for police services. That timetable would run out shortly after borough council’s scheduled May 16 meeting.

No face-to-face meetings have been held between representatives of the borough and the township since the last meeting was held in the Municipal Building in Middletown on Jan. 12, Curry said.

Shortly after the Feb. 21 council meeting, Kapenstein provided information to Lower Swatara that borough officials said the township would need in order to provide a contract proposal for police services to Middletown. That included information regarding current staffing of Middletown Police Department, as well as information pertaining to calls handled by the MPD, such as call volume and types of calls, Curry said.

Kapenstein also provided to the township budget information concerning the MPD, including audits and budgets showing police expenditures by the borough over the past several years.

This information was included in a packet that was delivered to Frank Williamson, director of public safety and the assistant manager of Lower Swatara Township, Curry said.

“Lower Swatara will continue to look at the feasibility of contracting police services to the borough of Middletown,” Williamson said via email this week. He referred all other questions to Board President Jon Wilt or Vice President Laddie Springer.

Wilt said that there would be no regionalization, and that the only option being discussed is a contract for services. He said he wasn't sure how far Williamson had been able to go into the information he received from Curry.

Lower Swatara “can’t be rushing into anything that's not a good fit,” he said, and no final decisions have been made.

The mayor said that the township is aware of the 90-day deadline that council set on Feb. 21. A proposal from the township is expected to arrive before expiration of the 90-day time limit, Curry told the Press & Journal.

“I’m not sure how in depth it will be because it is a complicated discussion. I think we probably will get something. I don’t know what the form of the proposal will be,” he said.

The amount of money that it costs Middletown residents for the borough to continue having its own standalone police department has been the driving force behind Curry and Kapenstein undertaking the talks.

Middletown and other Dauphin County municipalities have explored the idea of regional policing a number of times over the years.

In 2015 Dauphin County Commissioners sought to move the issue forward by releasing results of a county-funded study saying that most municipalities in the county — including Middletown — would save money by entering into a regional police arrangement.

Curry and Kapenstein launched the current effort shortly after then-borough Police Chief John Bey announced his resignation, in hopes that the borough not having a permanent police chief would remove one obstacle to negotiating a regional police department or contracting with Lower Swatara.

Curry in January appointed retired New York City Police Detective George Mouchette to replace Bey as chief, but Mouchette holds the position on an interim basis.

Curry and Kapenstein have both said repeatedly that the borough has an obligation to residents to explore whether a regional police or contracting-out alternative is feasible.

Otherwise, both officials have said that a tax increase will be unavoidable to bring manpower of the current Middletown police department to where it needs to be, based on recommendations of both Mouchette and Bey, as well as recommendations included in an evaluation of the department that was completed in 2015 by Transparency Matters, a consulting firm, while Bey was chief.

Curry has said that the tax increase that is needed could be as high as $250 for a borough property owner with a property assessed at $100,000. That would mean hiring five new full-time officers, in addition to the two open positions in the department: one from the retirement of Detective Richard Hiester, and another approved in the borough’s budget for 2017.

The “optimum” department Curry is calling for, with input from Mouchette, would have one police chief, one executive officer (or lieutenant), four sergeants, 12 patrolmen and two detectives.

The current department has one chief but no executive officer/ lieutenant. It has only one sergeant and one detective. Two more full-time patrol officers would need to be added to get to 12.

The mayor and Kapenstein have both said they will not support a contracting for services with the township that does not meet all of the following objectives: provide at least the same or better level of police services, save borough taxpayers’ money, and “protect” the jobs of current Middletown Police Department police officers.

Both officials have also added to the list that contracting out for police services with Lower Swatara must also guarantee that at least one police officer will be physically present in the borough of Middletown at all times.

Kapenstein recently resigned as council president, but he will continue to lead the contracting-out discussions with Lower Swatara on behalf of council, said Damon Suglia, who was elected to replace Kapenstein as council president on April 4.

“I am going to leave that in Ben’s hands,” Suglia said. “They have the ball rolling.”

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